Half the battle is allowing yourself to win it,
the other half is finding your way
out of the woods afterwards.
And how they bend the truth: Part IIClick here to read PART I
I was frozen stiff in fear, but I couldn't have run if I had the choice. After all, where was I supposed to run to? There I was in a cold, slippery cedar swamp, pinned between a river on one side and a steep hill and underbrush on the other. I was staring at the darkest, biggest, gnarliest looking lone wolf your imagination could possibly cook up, and I had nothing to defend myself with but my hands.
I wasn’t aware of it then, but thinking back on it now, I recall the biological response I went through when I realized my path had crossed with one of nature’s most perfect predators. Sure, all the normal things occurred - the hair on the back of my neck stood on end, my shoulders tensed up, a cool sweat broke on my forehead, but what I wasn’t expecting was for my hands to clench into fists, my spine to straighten, my legs to set themselves at shoulder width apart, and my facial expression to settle into an angry furrow across my brow. Apparently, within a matter of microseconds, I had subconsciously decided to fight a full-grown wolf with my bare hands.
The wolf’s fur was so black it seemed to suck light right out of the air. Its snout was blocky, set wide like it was almost deformed. The monster’s ears were wide and set low to his broad face, creating a permanent, menacing expression. His jet-black fur bunched around his massive neck was in magnificent layers, more like a lion’s mane than anything else. And the eyes. Oh the eyes.
They were gray, but not in a glowing, piercing, or aggressive way. No. No, these eyes were a pale gray, almost dull you might say. They were unimpressed, unthreatened, jaded. They were the eyes that had seen so much death, carnage, and horror that they hardly registered any of it anymore. These eyes were hollow, and in them, I was already dead.
The wolf growled at me once, in a low, gruff manner, which I now suspect was simply to command my attention. Now that he had it, though, he just stood and stared, peering into the depth of my very soul as if my physical self hardly existed. And why should I exist? To him I was a waste. I was a short skirmish away from bleeding to death in a pit of cold, black swamp water, and there was almost nothing preventing him from putting me there. Every deepest, darkest fear in me was exposed to his gaze. To him I was pathetic, weak, powerless, a miniscule creature cowering before his 175-pound, six-foot frame built for decadence, deceit, and destruction.
However, it wasn’t until I had turned to face him head on, to stare right back into his face, when the gravity of the situation truly sank my heart. I was alone, deep in the woods. Nobody knew where I was, nobody was going to help, and nobody would probably ever find my mutilated body. There was nothing and nobody that would be coming to the rescue. If I chose to fight, I chose to fight alone. Oddly enough, that last realization is what allowed me the thinnest shred of courage, as I stood alone under the bleakest of spotlights.
Suddenly, I realized this was my life at a bottleneck. Nothing I had ever experienced before now, nothing I had built or committed myself to would matter at all in the next few moments, and none of it would ever matter again unless I could find a way to beat this thing. So instead of spiraling out of control in despair at the imminent and gruesome end to my life, all the pain I was likely to be subjected to, and all of the impossible demands I would soon be burdened with, I set my mind to strength, to positive energy, to anger. Yes, I needed the energy of rage; I needed bloodlust and raw, wild, warrior caliber intensity to surge in my chest. I would outmatch this foe, if in nothing else than in red-hot insanity. I could do something this assassin could not - I could get unreasonable.
I channeled thoughts of my family and friends. I imagined what I would do if one of my younger siblings was standing there instead of me. I thought of them in trouble, or in pain, or suffering. I asked myself what I was willing to do for one of them, what could I possibly offer in exchange for one of my brother’s lives, or in defense of my sister?
“To hell and back,” I uttered in my lowest tone. I would do anything. No, I would do everything to protect them, and they would do the same for me. There was nothing in heaven or hell that would prevent me from fighting for them, and that’s how I needed to see this situation. There was no bridge I couldn't cross, no river I couldn't swim, no monster I couldn't fight in the name of the people I love. Maybe I was too afraid to fight for myself, but with every fiber of my being, I would fight for them.
My blood began to boil. I felt the presence of those loved ones, I saw their faces surround me, heard their voices in my head, and saw them nod in approval.
“I can pull mountains form the earth and cast them amongst the stars. I can level forests and put oceans in their place. I can pluck the moon out of the night sky, and you’ll never howl again, you wretch!”
I thought all these things. In fact, I began to believe in them. I was a force now. I was fortitude and fire. I would set this entire woodland ablaze with the gasoline coursing through my veins. I was a machine of absolute destruction; nothing would survive what I could do. I was a juggernaut, a grizzly bear, a rhinoceros, a buffalo blinded by a roaring red rampage in my chest.
My body was incendiary, rippling with the fury I’d coaxed into myself. I would destroy this animal if he meant to destroy me. He would not survive the wrath I could summon. I, myself, would become the animal, and it would be he who would be shocked at my barbarian nerve. I would get gory; I would tear him apart with my own two hands, my body would become a rabid torrent of four-limb destruction. I would go out swinging, screaming, biting, gasping, and foaming at the mouth.
I lowered my shoulders forward, dropped my arms at angles to my sides, and focused my newly found ferocity into a teeth-baring grin straight towards the black monstrosity in front of me.
“It is time..for you..to go,” I growled slowly at the menace. Then I took a firm step forward. His head lowered, and for a second I braced for a charge. But then I saw something in those jaded gray eyes I had not before - deliberation.
For the first time since I’d met my reaper, I had a chip to bet. In an instant the game had changed. I had the upper hand, or at least I had convinced myself that I did, and guess what? We both bought it. That’s all I needed, that nano second of uncertainty over this superior killer; one tiny chance to turn things around.
“GEEAHHHH!” I shouted and stomped my right foot on the hollow river embankment. The last ounce of terror in me surged out of the end of my fingertips as I raised my arms above my head, hands contorted into killing claws. I was ready to fight, ready to risk everything. I was about to tilt into a charge towards the monster in that moment, when something old and ancient inside of me reduced the charge to a final warning, one last display of dominance that might defuse the situation before it tested our mortalities. I gave him one last warning to dissipate, because I was in charge, I would decide our fates, I was in command of the situation now, and my head was swirling with power.
The beast made a bit of a huffing sound, shot one last glance at me and turned, disappearing back into the depths of the swamp.
As I stood there watching the place where he’d vanished, a calm washed over me. The blood of war rushing in my ears slowly quieted from deafening, to a trickle, to dissipating entirely. I turned on the faucet and filled a cup with cold water to rinse the toothpaste out of my mouth. When I looked up from the sink again, the wolf was no longer in the mirror. My ears were human again like I remembered them, the thick, jet-black mane just a rugged, reddish beard, and the jaded gray eyes, well, they looked more humane. It was time for bed; the beast inside had been defeated for one more day.
"And now you know the rest of the story."
– Paul Harvey
See you out there,
A woodsman in training.